Image: Getty Images
By Alys Key
In the opening sequence of Island Saver, a video game made for NatWest by developers at Stormcloud Games, the player is parachuted out of a plane on to an island.
It’s a subtle visual nod to Fortnite, but once you have landed the game’s content couldn’t be more different to the popular last-man-standing game. Instead, you have a brightly-coloured fantastical landscape full of friendly creatures both real and imagined. The main task is to make your surroundings even nicer by cleaning up the litter which covers the beaches.
A video game about money
I may be well over the age of the game’s target audience, but I quickly found it addictive to suck up the discarded plastic bottles with my “trash blaster” and recycle them. Island Saver has an environmental message interspersed with some scarily realistic financial details.
I’ve just completed a task when the screen goes black and then loads up an animated image of what appears to be a flying dustbin in a bowler hat. “Hello,” says the caption. “I’m the Taxbot. I’m here to collect your tax.”
From this point on, the Taxbot appears any time I earn money. Often it comes up behind me, and I only turn around in time to see it rocketing off into the distance, having taken its tithe from the gold coins I just extracted from a happy hippo.
Sometimes this can make the game feel a bit ominous, like that scene in Mary Poppins where Mr Banks takes Jane and Michael to the bank. You can’t move on until you deposit tuppence in the bank.
Still, the game was a genuinely informative experience. Playing through concepts like debt and taxes makes them a lot more tangible than simply having those ideas explained.
Since launching in May, it has already had more than one million downloads, perhaps indicating the huge demand for a free, educational game with many kids still stuck at home.
Island Saver reviewed by a young player
By Skye Webster, age 12
“When I first played this game the bright colours immediately stood out for me. This would definitely attract a younger audience.
“The fact that the game teaches you about money can appear as a dull concept but once you start playing, surprisingly, it becomes fun – the use of cute animals throughout the different levels really helps.
“Players have to clean up gloop, collect the coins they earn and deposit them. It’s really easy to pick up and play.
“I think this game is aimed at a younger demographic, perhaps five- to seven-year-olds (judging by the graphics and content).
“I think customisability would give players an incentive to progress in the game but overall, I think it’s a rewarding game that children can learn from and enjoy.”
Turn learning into a game
Playing the game got me thinking about the use of games in financial education, and as it turns out there is a lot to be said for the idea.
Rachel Hardy, chief executive of Foresters Friendly Society says: “As a mother of two, I know how important it is to talk to your children about money and teach them important lessons on budgeting and saving – but I also know that this is easier said than done.
“Between juggling work commitments and at-home education, there can be few hours left in the day to tackle money lessons as well. However, we’ve found that turning these lessons into a game makes for a fun experience and helps them remember what you’re teaching.”
Video games like Island Saver can be a great way to keep the kids both entertained and learning for a few hours, but if you want to limit their screen time or do something as a family, there’s always a good old- fashioned board game.
Will Rainey, who helps parents teach their children about money as the founder of investment tool Blue Tree, says the classics are still some of the best.
“Parents can keep their children entertained, while learning about money, by playing games such as Monopoly or Game of Life. My girls love playing Monopoly Deal before breakfast.
“It is very important for parents to help children make the connection between what they are learning from the game and real life. For example, Monopoly teaches us to keep an emergency fund in case of unexpected doctor, tax or school trip bills and to invest money to make more money (these lessons can be easily missed if children just focus on winning the game).
“The great thing about playing money-related games is that it reinforces these learnings each time they are played.”
Clare Francis, director of savings and investment at Barclays, agrees that board games can be invaluable.
“The Game of Life is another personal favourite. The age-old game enables users to re-create real-life money scenarios, and can provide lifelong lessons such as the impact your education and career choices can have on your income. And let’s not forget Payday! This is a top example of a game that explains the art of budgeting in a simple and enjoyable manner.
“The beauty of these games is they aren’t just an interactive and fun way to engage children – the whole family can get involved and become more financially literate.”
Making your own games
If you don’t have a Monopoly set on hand, don’t fret. There are games you can make yourself at home, for free.
“Games and playing are work for children,” says Adrian Lowcock, head of personal investing at investment platform Willis Owen.
“It is an important part of how they learn things, putting their education into practical use. It gives them the tools to take control of a situation and make their own decisions.”
Adrian has himself used two games known as “tuck shop” and “family store” with his own children.
Playing tuck shop simply involves setting up a play shop and a list of prices for the items on sale. Then, while taking turns to be the shopkeeper, ensure your child uses the correct amount of money to buy their goods or gives the right change when tending the store.
The family store is the same basic concept, but money is awarded by parents based on the child’s behaviour throughout the week.
Adrian says that each week, usually on Fridays, he talks to his children about how they behaved during the week and whether or not they deserve some money to spend in the shop. He will then award them some coins and open the shop, which is packed full of various treats they can buy as rewards – from sweets or chocolates to little toys, magazines and books.
This helped his children learn how to work out the money required for items. Adrian also noticed an improvement in his children’s behaviour and it helped them through the weeks of lockdown.
Clare Francis of Barclays also suggests writing a quiz for older children. She advises focusing on “questions that encourage them to see how money works in their world”.
“You could ask which coin is the heaviest and which the most valuable? How much is a pint of milk? Whose picture is on every coin and note? What is a bank? How else can we pay for things rather than using cash?”
Changing the future
While many parents might be feeling exhausted at the prospect of more teaching after lockdown-enforced homeschooling, there could be some real long-term benefits to doing so, says Adrian.
“Most of the previous generations – including the millennials and generation Xers – were not taught about basic financial concepts, having to learn the hard way once we started working,” he says.
“This could be our chance to change that for the younger generations.”
Original Article: iNews